There are three ways that people buy or receive health insurance: through their employer, through government marketplaces set up under the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare), or on their own through brokers or comprehensive private exchanges like Candor Insurance.
You can purchase your own “private” policy at any time, and employers usually have defined enrollment periods set by their plan providers. If you’re using a public Obamacare marketplace, though, there’s a limited time each year when you can enroll in or change your health insurance plan (unless you’ve had a “qualifying life event” like a marriage, birth, or job change that causes you to lose employer-provided insurance).
The 2018 open enrollment period is approaching quickly and the rules have changed – so now is the time to learn how public exchanges will work this year.
The Open Enrollment Period
First, one disclaimer. With the political uncertainty that continues to surround the Affordable Care Act, there’s no guarantee that ACA Marketplaces will continue to exist in their current form – or at all – for the long-term. This information assumes that the Obamacare landscape remains relatively stable for 2018.
November 1, 2017 is the first day that open enrollment is available through HealthCare.gov, the government exchange. However, you only have until December 15 to sign up, a major change from the past when you had three months to enroll. Now, you have only 90 days to make a decision and sign up. The open enrollment period is also the only time when you’re able to change to a completely new plan on the public marketplace, or switch to a different level of coverage (from silver to gold, for example). Your new insurance will take effect on January 1.
There are some exceptions. If you’re using your state’s public Obamacare exchange instead of HealthCare.gov, the enrollment period may be longer. For example:
- California: runs through January 15, 2018
- Colorado: runs through January 12, 2018
- District of Columbia: runs through January 31, 2018
- Massachusetts: runs through January 23, 2018.
- Minnesota: runs through January 14, 2018.
- Rhode Island: runs through December 31, 2018.
- Washington: runs through January 15, 2018.
The effective date of coverage for policies purchased after December 15 can vary, so check your state’s ACA website for details. More states may also offer longer enrollment periods, but they haven’t made announcements as of yet.
Renewing Your Public Marketplace Health Insurance
An existing marketplace health plan will renew automatically for the coming year – but it’s not the best idea to simply let it renew without checking your options during open enrollment.
First, better alternatives might have been added to the exchange for 2018. The political uncertainty we’ve mentioned makes that somewhat unlikely, but it’s still a good idea to check.
Second, your current health insurance provider may have changed some of the details of your plan; most importantly, your doctor may no longer be on the provider’s network or some of the medications you take may have been removed from your policy’s approved drug list. The insurer is supposed to send you a list of any upcoming changes for 2018. But it’s up to you to make sure you’re not left holding the bag for unexpected, potentially huge expenses in the upcoming year.